The Temptation of the ADQ: This Is a Revised Version of an Article That Appeared in Argument (Vol. 5, No. 2, Spring-Summer 2003). It Was Translated by Julian Olson

Article excerpt

THE ADQ'S SURPRISING BY ELECTION VICTORIES AND SPECTACULAR rise in the polls in 2002 revealed an unmistakable longing for change. Pollsters mused about a mysterious shift of uncommitted voters. Commentators suggested Quebecers had had their fill of the current political class and simply wanted new, younger faces. And there was the commonly expressed view that the Patti Quebecois was on its way out, but not necessarily to an awkward Jean Charest who could not make up his mind on important matters.

While these analyses all have some truth, they don't get us far in understanding the deeper meaning underlying the whims of the electorate. And demonizing the ADQ simply because its program is critical of aspects of the Quiet Revolution is really too easy. A lot of Quebecers, often the younger ones, just don't feel the same way about the founding myth of modern Quebec. They see a deep gulf between the glorious tale and the mundane reality that they have inherited from the Quiet Revolution.

It would be perverse to presume, as do some PQ and nationalist leaders, that Quebec is succeeding across the board and sovereignty is the only thing between us and nirvana. The reality is quite different. Seething with the resentment of a young anxious generation, haunted by a sense of failure among another, aging, generation, and exhausted by the debate on the "national question" after two lost referenda, today's Quebec looks toward a muddled future. In this context, the ADQ becomes a temptation which bespeaks a widespread unease. An intuitive politician, Mario Dumont articulates this unease in a variety of ways to attract those disappointed with the "Quebec model," those living the anguish of idle withdrawal, those tired of the debate on the national question, the neverendum.

Consider the young adults, generation X, among whom the ADQ made its first gains in 1994 and 1998. Many are frustrated at not finding room in the $5-a-day child care centres set up by the PQ, or are unable to find secure employment. To a generation that has to settle for contractual jobs or working on call, Mario Dumont looks like a Robin Hood. With Dumont in power there will be no more lazy bureaucrats, incompetents secure in their permanent jobs forcing the young to pay unjust taxes. These young adults cheer when Dumont threatens to do away with job security, a privilege they have never known. They weren't around for the glory days, and unlike the pampered baby boomers, they have made it on their own, without the help of corporatist unions. A vote for the ADQ can be an outlet for sullen resentment, often held back yet undeniably present. Reactive rather than reflective, this vote is a cry of anger, or at least an unwillingness to bow meekly to present circumstances.

And these young adults are not the only ones tempted by the ADQ. Many in their late fifties and early sixties also sometimes dream of seeing Mario Dumont as Premier. In their case, the thirst for change is not fed by resentment, but rather by a steadily growing despair. Their horizons narrowing, they have just seen their parents die and have come Lace to face with their own mortality. Unlike their parents, who lived through the hardships of the Depression, these baby boomers have known only abundance, prosperity and upward mobility. They have good pensions, and can afford lower taxes and a smaller state, but can't accept the idea of ending their days in a shared room in an overflowing hospital, whose hard-working personnel will be obliged to treat them as if on an assembly line. A vote for the ADQ--even if it is at the price of their most cherished convictions about the role of the state--can thus be seen as an insurance policy for their old age.

Finally, for many, the ADQ is a way to sweep the eternal "national question" under the rug, to put paid to the constitutional failures of the last 30 years. The ADQ proposes a great family reconciliation, a long-awaited healing of fratricidal divisions. …